Detecting Seasonal Movement from Animal Dung: An Investigation in Neolithic Northern Greece

By Valamoti, Soultana Maria | Antiquity, December 2007 | Go to article overview

Detecting Seasonal Movement from Animal Dung: An Investigation in Neolithic Northern Greece


Valamoti, Soultana Maria, Antiquity


Introduction

Recent archaeological investigations of prehistoric habitation in northern Greece have demonstrated the co-existence of two settlement types, namely the tell, considered until recently as the type-site of the Greek Neolithic (e.g. Sherratt 1983; Halstead 1989; Kotsakis 1999) and the extended or 'flat' settlement type (Andreou & Kotsakis 1986; 1994; Grammenos et al. 1990; Grammenos 1991; Pappa 1999). While the tell is characterised by mud-brick buildings erected and renewed on the same spot to form a mound, the flat sites are characterised by 'negative' features (i.e. pits and ditches) and by structures that drift horizontally over time, leaving broad spaces amongst them (Makriyalos: Pappa & Besios 1999; Apsalos: Chrysostomou et al. 2003; Galini: Toufexis 2005). Fields and grazing areas are thought to surround tells, while at flat sites they are assumed to be located among the structures of the settlement (Chapman 1989: 38; Andreou & Kotsakis 1994: 23).

Permanence of occupation has been considered an essential element of Greek Neolithic sites, particularly tells (Halstead 1999: 77-78; Perles 2001: 174). Some evidence, such as thin occupation levels and insubstantial structures (Whittle 1996: 52-54; Bailey 2000: 47-48) or indications of flooding (as at Platia Magoula Zarkou, van Andel & Runnels 1995; van Andel et al. 1995) has put this permanence into question. But these objections have been justifiably criticised (Halstead 1999: 77).

Flat sites, in regions further north, have been associated with non-permanent habitation (Kaiser & Voytek 1983: 234-35; Whittle 1996: 52-54; 2003: 7, 55; Bailey 2000: 41, 47-48, 57-58) and for Greece, interpreted as 'short-lived villages' as opposed to an occupation over many generations at tell sites (Perles 2001: 174, 176). The spatially discontinuous habitation pattern, thin deposits, and the horizontal, extended drift of structures have been attributed to the Neolithic farmers' need to move frequently to newly-cleared woodland as a means of coping with woodland regeneration in the fields (Demoule & Perles 1993: 364). But the flat sites have also been interpreted as year-round settlements, inhabited by a permanent population (Pappa et al. 2004: 37; Halstead 2005: 49, but see Pappa & Besios 1999: 192; Pappa et al. 2004: 40).

Permanence and seasonality of occupation can be considered two different ways for human societies to use space, though it has been rightly emphasised that all societies possess some degree of mobility (Bar-Yosef & Rocek 1998: 1-2). The issue at hand therefore concerns the form of mobility, not whether it existed. Despite general agreement that sedentism involves long-term residence at a single location by a group of people, there is disagreement over the duration of habitation necessary for a site to be considered sedentary (Kaiser & Voytek 1983: 323-24). Moreover, the means of distinguishing between different degrees of sedentism (e.g. Kaiser & Voytek 1983; Schiffer 1987; Kent 1999) in the archaeological record are problematic and need to be addressed with great caution (e.g. Rafferty 1995: 128-37; Hodder 1982: 60-61; 1987: 424).

Occupation at seasonal sites could correspond to habitation during only one season, to multi-season habitation taking place at certain periods of the year only, or on certain occasions. These occasions could have involved feasting (e.g. Wiessner 2001: 127-29, 133), seasonal hunting or wild fruit harvesting, and even 'widening the exchange of genes' (O'Connor 1998a: 3). Seasonal movement may also involve sectional mobility, whereby part of the community moves away from the settlement and fields in search of pasture (see Greenfield 1999: 15). The issue of seasonal movement in Neolithic Greece is far from resolved, although seasonal movement of herds in search of pasture has been suggested either as an opportunistic strategy to fatten specific categories of animals (e. …

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